Poem of the Week | November 07, 2016

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Alen Hamza. Originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hamza immigrated to the United States when he was fifteen. He has received fellowships from the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, Fence, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. He is a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah.
Author’s note:

The “country of six” that I mention in the poem refers to Yugoslavia (it was made up of six republics), which fell apart during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Ever since then, borders have scared me. Without the right kind of name or passport (denoting a certain ethnic group), you were in danger of being mistreated by the border police, or even being denied passage. Surrealism is a mighty flirt, and it’s hard to say no when it shows up in your poem. Here, though, I also wanted to sneak in a point about the gap between surrealism as most people think of it—the “tainted,” everyday version, where “surreal” stands for strangeness that catches us off guard and makes things seem other than they are—and surrealism as regarded by the Surrealists themselves—revolution of mind, and life, through transcendent imagination. “Little by little, I said fine to life” was inspired by Neruda’s “Little by little, and also in great leaps, life happened to me.” I don’t have pets, but I did just today water a non-stinging cactus.


Little by Little


I left, at twelve, the town of poplars.
Pimples were partying on my forehead,
rifles kept young men awake.


A country of six became six countries
with one product: nationalism.
I crossed the border, an ingrown nail.


I left half my heart cradled
by the razor wire. “I will lull it”
said the wire, a life form


made exclusively of teeth.
And so surrealism in its tainted version
entered my life: no revolution, no


transcendence. Just the horror
of material things.
Little by little, I said fine to life.


Stopped feeding vitamins to pets,
accepted that not all cacti sting,
relegated wonder to the landfill.